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The ‘Why’ of eAdvising

Across America, more than 50% of high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students do not apply to any selective colleges or universities despite their qualifications. But when these students apply to top institutions, they are accepted and graduate at the same rate as their wealthier peers. 

Many of these students face obstacles when it comes to navigating the college application process. Students who are not counseled or who may be the first in their family to go to college may “undermatch” by applying to two-year or only local schools rather than the top tier four-year colleges they’re qualified to attend. They may not be aware of financial aid opportunities and shy away from schools with high tuition. And, simply, they may not think top colleges are for them. This is where college counselors play a vital role and can help students make the right decisions when applying to college.

However, a recent New York Times article reported that nationally, the ratio of college counselors is nearly 500 to 1. And research shows that at schools serving predominantly low-income high school students, the ratio is 1,000 students to every college counselor. This presents a challenge for counselors when students are all applying to schools at once, and a missed opportunity for students who need the most help.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ college access and success initiative CollegePoint  aims to directly help as many as 65,000 high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students apply to, enroll in and graduate from top institutions. As part of the initiative, we are matching expertly trained advisors with our target student population to provide one-on-one support, including college selection guidance and help navigating the financial aid process. The advisors will use virtual interaction and communication tools, such as video chat and document sharing, to reach students across all 50 states. This means more advice and support for more students.

Meet Andrew Meriwether, one of the virtual advisors of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ College Access and Success initiative working at College Advising Corps. In a guest blog post, Andrew shares with us why virtual advising is so important.

There are two truths that have become apparent to me over the course of these past five months as an eAdviser with the College Advising Corps:

1. Applying to college is startlingly complicated and difficult for students across the U.S., particularly low-income, first-generation students; and

2. It is critical that these students end up attending university.

During my own higher education journey, I never had to face the obstacles our students confront constantly throughout the college process. My family never questioned my intention to go to college, my counselor didn’t have 500 seniors to manage, my parents were English-speakers, and the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile were basically completed for me! The majority of students we work with don’t have any of these luxuries, and are often left to their own devices to navigate finding colleges in which they can thrive, and applying for funding to attend those colleges. If selected for the FAFSA and CSS Profile verification, the process alone is enough to make anyone wonder how an entire college application actually gets finished.

What is especially concerning is that many who have to tread these complex waters alone are some of the highest achieving students. One study from Harvard estimates that there are at least 35,000 high-achieving, low-income students who do not even apply to selective colleges. This is a travesty both for the students themselves, as well as our country as a whole.

A couple of years ago The New York Times discussed recent research indicating the significant economic impact that attending a selective college can have for low-income, minority students. It is well established by this point that a college degree greatly increases a person’s income over the long term, but this research suggests the impact is even greater for those underrepresented student populations. This is exactly the demographic of students we are advising in our work.

In our day-to-day eAdvising, our main role is to be a support system. Nearly all the students we work with are already highly driven and possess the desire to attend a leading college or university. What we do as eAdvisers is show students that another person is invested in their college journey, and provide resources and information that the students can utilize to manifest their ambition. This means the following:

  • Building virtual tools, like college match lists;
  • Having consistent communication with students through emails, text messages, phone calls, and video chats to answer questions and keep them on a productive timeline;
  • Taking part in one-on-one meetings to edit essays; and
  • Participating in a myriad of other services that empower our students to complete their college application process.

The success of these activities can help have a significant benefit on our nation. This is a population of students with untapped potential whose contributions to our society could be earth shattering. I’m talking about students like Liz*, a first-generation college student who tells me about wanting to integrate engineering and fashion design to create garments that regulate vital signs to support public health. I am talking about students like Tony*, who expresses his desire to use a college degree to return to his hometown and improve his community through local politics. Such underrepresented students ought to be brought into the fold of our top-tier colleges. Our students have the minds and will to confront these crises, whether it is the challenges of public health, climate change, or healing the deep social wounds we have inflicted upon one another.

These two truths are what ignite me in this work. We cannot afford to let these students merely drift on the periphery of our concern. We must be that beacon on the shore which guides students towards their aspirations. With just a small bit of direction, these students will amaze us all.

*Aliases have been provided to protect students’ identities.